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Ultrahack gathers Northern Europe’s most innovative hackers to Helsinki

Ultrahack consists of a series of hackathon events which use technology to create new social and economic innovations. It culminates in a two-day final event in Helsinki, Finland. Ultrahack Hackathon

Mix innovative minds from technology and business, provide them with a challenge, data and equipment and you have got yourself a hackathon. Now Finnish event Ultrahack is taking the concept a step further with a hackathon tournament focused on creating new social and economic innovations.

Ultrahack, organised for the second time in Helsinki this November, is raising the bar for hackathon events. Teams of startups, students and corporations around the world are invited to solve challenges across different industries and compete for various prizes, including one million euros in investment provided by Finnish startup accelerator Nestholma.

“Ultrahack is a combination of hackathons, accelerator services and an open innovation platform,”  says Mikko Järvilehto, co-founder and CEO of Ultrahack. “We are trying to create something that has not been done before. Classic hackathons revolve around one topic, but we bring together several industries and all the relevant technologies. This year we have ten tracks for different challenges.”

With this ambitious goal in mind, Ultrahack has expanded from one event into a tournament. It covers several hackathons held in conjunction with major technology events in Helsinki, Reykjavik, Oslo, Copenhagen and Prague. The winners of these partner events together with the best and the brightest participants online (in total 100 teams) will test their skills at a two-day final in Helsinki.  

The whole process is supported with Ultrahack’s open innovation platform which enables virtual match-making, collaboration and coaching between individuals, teams and companies from various backgrounds.

“When you mix together a huge amount of technologies, challenges and the teams solving them, you create unforeseen combinations which can lead to real innovation,” Järvilehto argues.  

Hack a drone or a nation

Despite its techy nature, the goal of Ultrahack goes beyond showcasing technological skills. The event has partnered with various organisations in Finland, such as IBM, retailer S Group, financial company OP Group and Finnish Population Register Center (VRK), to find real-world challenges which are pertinent to both the private and public sectors.

“For example participants in the [‘Hack the Nation’] track can choose whichever public service they want and VRK has promised to provide them with the necessary access and data,” Järvilehto says. “In theory they can hack any public service in Finland.”

Other challenges include using artificial intelligence to create new personal banking services and tapping into transaction data to transform online shopping experiences. There is even a chance to build a drone using a 3D printer and take part in a drone racing event.

Ultrahack hopes the event will create real collaboration with the partner companies and participating teams that continues long after the competition finishes. It is this collaborative nature that also attracted Nestholma to provide accelerator services for the event.

“Ultrahack offers a unique environment for initial collaboration between startups and large corporations,” explains Topi Järvinen, Managing Partner at Nestholma. “For us, Ultrahack gives unique opportunity to find interesting ventures and business ideas that we can help to grow further in our coming programmes.”

European ‘hackathon league’

Ultrahack is run by a small core team with the help of volunteers. The organisation is not seeking plaudits, but wants to drive open innovation around the world. In fact, Ultrahack has already taken its first steps towards this goal after revealing it has started talks to host events in China, though Europe will remain its priority for now.

“We want to create a kind of European ‘hackathon league’. We have just got the Netherlands and Romania to join us in addition to Denmark, Norway, Iceland and the Czech Republic,” Järvilehto says. “The model we will use in China is still under consideration, but we want to build a bridge between China and Europe.”

Ultrahack is also planning to make the hackathon tournament into a bi-annual event timed alongside Finland’s largest startup events: Slush in the autumn and Arctic15 in the spring. Hackers have long had bad press, but it seems this may be about to change.

Last year around 50 per cent of all Ultrahack participants were Finnish, but the event is expected to attract an even wider international crowd this time. The goal is to eventually build a European league of hackathons. Image: Veeti Haapsamo
By: Eeva Haaramo